One of the best ways I know how to strengthen the relationship with my husband is to leave him every once in a while. By creating some physical space between us, I find that we can come back to each other a little bit more of ourselves. This is so life-giving to each of us as individuals, but also to our couple relationship. The trick is to know when to take your leave and to how long your leave-taking can be to 1) give yourself a real break and 2) not be so long or too often as to make your partner resentful of your absence.
This is super important in those first few months following the birth of your baby. The idea that you’ll have as much time in that newborn period as you did before the baby arrived to do much of anything, let alone find some quiet time for yourself to relax and recharge is kind of a joke. After your baby comes into your life, you’ll have a moment where you realize just how lazy you were before. You’ll dream of the hours you spent trawling the internet, texting with friends, sleeping. Don’t plan on getting those things back right away – the demands of a newborn don’t allow for a lot of “unproductive” time. But don’t believe for a second that this unproductive time isn’t essential to your overall well-being, because it is. As soon as you’re able, you need to leave the baby with your partner and take a break.
I’m saying this specifically to the Mommas out there, because by virtue of the fact that you gave birth to this little person, you’ll most likely get some paid time off (but not nearly enough – Vote for Barb!) Dads and partners have probably already had to go back to work, and while I will not equate getting up after yet another night of baby waking several times and heading into the office a “break” there is something to be said about being away from the baby for a bit and interacting with other adults. It’s what I like to think of as Dad’s “surreal normalcy” – everyone around you expects that after your two weeks off, you’re right back in business. What they don’t know is that your whole life has changed and now at least half of your heart stays home with Momma and baby. It’s harder for new Dads than we ever acknowledge.
But staying at home with a newborn is no piece of cake, either. After some initial assistance from your partner, you now need to figure out how and when you might get a shower in before the whole feed-burp-wake-sleep cycle begins again. And initially, it seems like there’s no real schedule whatsoever! Momma’s “surreal normalcy” is that everyone else is out in the world doing things and seeing people, and she’s stuck in her home some days just trying to make it through.
All of this starts to get better and easier with time. Oh, time is your very best friend when you’re new parents! And there will come a day, I promise, when this surreal normalcy becomes your new normal and you’ll finally feel ready to step into this new reality. But before that happens – I want you to leave.
Your leave-taking has to coincide with a baby that takes a bottle easily and there needs to be an ample supply of milk sitting in the fridge. Choose a Saturday sometime around the 6 weeks postpartum mark and call up a friend and tell her you want to spend the better part of the day with her. If you’re breastfeeding, make sure to bring your pump with you and plan on pumping the number of feedings you’ll be missing at home. You don’t want your supply to be altered, but you also don’t want to feel incredibly uncomfortable.
On the morning of your “leave experiment,” feed your baby one last time and then kiss everyone goodbye and leave Dad and baby snuggled up together. This might really pull on your heartstrings. I want you as Momma to understand how hard it is for Dad to have to get up and go most mornings when what he’d really prefer is stay home with you instead. Do not leave him any notes about anything! He is your baby’s father and he can figure it out for himself.
Both of you might be a little anxious about how you’re going to get through the day in such different roles, and it’s okay to have a plan about what will happen if the milk runs out, or if you’re a weepy mess and need to get home to feed the baby. But try if you can to have a solid chunk of time where you walk in one another’s shoes. This can provide important insight into one another’s unique experience as the parent who leaves and goes to the office to work, and the parent who stays home to do the work of caring for your baby.
By accident, this little experiment happened in my new family. My work is very part-time and my hours are usually only evenings and on the weekends. About 6 weeks after my first baby was born, I went back to assist at a weekend workshop. I would not be teaching, I’d be the “set-up” person, registering couples, making sure the educators had all their supplies, etc. I brought my pump with me as I would have lots of downtime, but it meant that I was going to be gone from about 8 am until about 4 pm that day. I missed my girl so much it was killing me! I tried to call home a few times, but was forwarded immediately to voicemail. I had visions of my husband and baby taking long naps together and I was jealous as hell! I hated being away from either one of them. But I got through the day okay.
When I walked in the door that afternoon, my husband was washing dishes at the sink. (!) When I asked, “What did the two of you do all day?” He turned to me with a look that was pure exasperation mixed with total understanding and announced, “I fed the baby all day long.”
In one 8-hour day, we both experienced what the other had been going through and the shared understanding was everything to how we interacted with each other from that moment forward. Also, in that one day, my husband fully stepped into his role as Dad and never looked back. His own level of confidence and intuition skyrocketed and I was so happy to have a true partner in this parenting journey. It was and remains awesome for me to see how we differ from one another as parents to our children – and how there are things that each one of us does better than the other. That can only come from direct experience and opportunity to figure it out on your own.
So, as hard as it might be to contemplate, let alone do, leave each other – not just in the newborn phase, but maybe once or twice a year after that. As your babies become children, and their demands are not so 24/7, consider taking a weekend here and there to be with your friends doing something that you really enjoy. You’ll come back renewed and reenergized to assume your role as Momma or Dad and your partner will appreciate you so much more. You both will recognize just how much you don’t want to do this parenting job alone.
I think this is one of the best strategies that has helped me stay happily married for 18+ years. I’ve left every once in awhile. Try it. But don’t ever leave your partner emotionally. In fact, when you feel yourself puling away or being pulled away, you want to do the exact opposite. Instead of leaving, turn toward one another and figure out ways that you can all spend time together as a family, yes, but more importantly, as a couple. The best gift you could ever give to your baby is a happy and stable relationship years down the road. Sometimes that means staying put and sometimes that means leaving for a little while, but always coming back.
Have you ever tried the “leave” experiment after your baby was born? How do you think leaving for a time might impact your relationship with each other and as parents? How can you prioritize time for yourself and as a couple to keep your relationship strong?